CUA Debate, Moot Court Teams Take National Honors

Catholic University students have been impressing jurists and other judges with their oratory abilities in recent months, taking several national titles in debate and winning the only securities moot court competition in the country.

On Monday, March 5, three students from Catholic University's Columbus School of Law became national champions of the Irving R. Kaufman Memorial Securities Law Moot Court Competition.

Meanwhile, CUA's undergraduate debate team was racking up enough points to rank number one in the country, winning the Cross Examination Debate Association Novice National Debate Championship and the American Debate Association Varsity National Championship.

"The accomplishments of CUA's debate team and securities moot court team are jewels in the championship crown they share with members of the CUA men's basketball team, this year's NCAA Division III champions," said the Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., President. "These students all have made us very proud."

 'We're Number One!'

Catholic University's fledgling debate team has taken just three years to rise to the top. They began the month of April in Waco, Texas, at the National Debate Tournament championship, the "grand tournament of them all," said debate Coach Ron Bratt. The team didn't win the NDT championship but still performed well, he said.

Michael Pomorski, Mat Dunn, Kerry Coleman, Joseph McBurney and Anna McCrerey all helped the CUA Debate Team take home several national championship titles this season.

Simply qualifying for the NDT nationals was a feat; CUA was able to advance a pair of two-person teams to the event.

With its recent successes, Catholic University remains ranked number one in the nation by every national ranking system for college debate: the National Debate Tournament, the American Debate Association and the Cross Examination Debate Association. CUA has one of the few teams in college debate history to be ranked number one by all three major associations.

Final national rankings will be released on April 15. For updated information, check the team's website at: http://debate.cua.edu.

The team's showing in Texas follows on the heels of big wins in the NDT's sister league, the American Debate Association. CUA sophomore varsity debaters Michael Pomorski and Mat Dunn took the league's varsity title March 18, at the ADA's National Varsity Debate Championship held at Clarion University in Clarion, Pa. The pair won their final round on a unanimous decision, bringing home CUA's first national varsity debate title.

"The whole team worked hard, and I think [our win] is a culmination of everyone's efforts," Mr. Dunn said.

"Debate is a team activity," Mr. Pomorski agreed.

The team is so committed to working as a group that all its members helped Mr. Dunn, Mr. Pomorski, sophomore Sarah Wilson and her debate partner Tony Poliseno, a senior, prepare for the NDT nationals in Texas, long after the other students were done debating for the season.

That sort of commitment has done more than advance CUA to the number one spot in the country. It also helped the team break a league record in the American Debate Association nationals, when CUA became the first team in the championship's history to win top individual speaker honors in all three divisions of national competition. 

Freshman Anna McCrerey was awarded top novice speaker in the nation, freshman Kerry Coleman was named top junior varsity speaker, and Mr. Pomorski won the title of top varsity speaker.

About 100 institutions of higher education, including Harvard University, compete in the American Debate Association league.

The ADA titles followed a March 11 victory by freshmen Joseph McBurney and Ms. McCrerey, who won the Cross Examination Debate Association Novice National Debate Championship at Towson University in Towson, Md.

Coach Bratt said he sees a bright future ahead as Provost John Convey remains committed to supporting the debate team and its future growth.

CUA debate got its start on campus in 1907, but was inactive from the mid-1970s until 1998, according to Glen Johnson, associate dean of undergraduate programs, School of Arts and Sciences.

Dean Johnson helped restart the team along with Coach Bratt. He attributes the CUA Debate Team's success to three factors.

"First, we have one of the best coaches in the country in Ron Bratt, along with his assistants Chris Pudelski, Mike Dutcher and Paul Kerr. Second, the university has been supportive, financially and otherwise. Dr. Convey in particular has done his best to give us resources within the tight budget," Dean Johnson said. "Third and most important, the undergraduate debaters are amazingly dedicated and hardworking. One of the gratifying things about observing this activity is how all of them pitch in to help in all circumstances."

 

'The Dream Team'

When Columbus School of Law students Nicole Griffin, Margaret McGuire and Mia Zur walked into the chambers at the Irving R. Kaufman Memorial Securities Law Moot Court Competition they made an impression.

CUA moot court champions (from left) Nicole Griffin, Margaret McGuire and Mia Zur with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

They were the only team made up solely of women. Dressed in dark suits and radiating confidence, they walked in alone. Other teams in the competition, held at Fordham University in New York, came flanked by coaches, handlers and supporters.

But CUA's students, who managed to beat 19 other teams including those from Georgetown and New York universities, came armed only with the 40-page brief they had written for the competition and a thorough knowledge of securities law gained from study and frequent discussions with their advisers back home.

"One of the women from Villanova said when we came in, we looked like the Dream Team," Ms. Griffin said.

Ms. Zur and Ms. McGuire, both second-year law students, and Ms. Griffin, who is graduating this spring, were only the second CUA team to enter the Kauffman competition and on March 5 became national champions after arguing their case in front of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In addition to helping her team win the championship, Ms. McGuire was named best individual speaker of the mock appellate trial competition.

While most of the other teams had a scripted approach to arguing the cases for and against their briefs, CUA's team had spent most of their preparatory time simply analyzing the case law and discussing it with their mentors.

"For the three of us, that was the best preparation we could have had," Ms. McGuire said.

The women received guidiance from Columbus School of Law alumnus John Fedders, J.D. 1966, adjunct professors Greg Faragasso and Brad Bennett, and the team's lead adviser, Professor David A. Lipton, who directs the Columbus School of Law's securities law program.

When the women argued the brief, they weren't thrown when judges asked them the type of questions that forced other teams to deviate from their prepared scripts. That familiarity with the law may have given them an edge, they said.

All three women have at least seven years of experience in the work force under their belts and have done graduate work outside of law school; they agreed that kind of seasoning and real-world experience might also have helped them make their case.

"I think we just really, really wanted to win," said Ms. Griffin. "And we had so many people supporting the team, we couldn't come back without a strong showing."